What does Chris Froome’s withdrawal mean for the 2019 Tour de France?
Chris Froome is out of the 2019 Tour de France after a serious crash in training at the Criterium du Dauphine. The four-time Tour champion is still in hospital and, with doctors saying he requires at least six months off the bike, his season is almost certainly over. Hopefully, he is able to make a full recovery from the extensive injuries he sustained and is back racing in the near future.
More immediately though, with Froome out of the Tour, what does that mean for the race? Sky/Ineos has won all but one edition since 2012 — will 2019 be any different?
Egan Bernal just became a lot more important for Ineos.
Initially, heading into this Tour de France, there had been debate over who would be Ineos’ leader: Froome or Geraint Thomas. This is now clear. Geraint Thomas should now be Ineos’ clear leader as he tries to defend his 2018 title. However, you could argue that the leadership crown should fall on Egan Bernal’s head as well.
While Thomas is the defending champion, his results thus far this season don’t seem to place him in a prime position for overall victory. His only notable result for 2019 is a third placing at the Tour de Romandie and his performance at the Tour de Suisse this week will now be crucial in determining the form he may bring in July.
Going into the 2018 Tour, Thomas was the second-in-command to Froome yet had already won the Criterium du Dauphine, placed second at the Vuelta ao Algarve, third at Tirreno-Adriatico and had been crowned British national time trial champion. Bernal’s 2019, meanwhile, has looked similar to Thomas’ 2018. He has taken out Paris-Nice overall, and finished third at the Vuelta a Catalunya and the Colombian national time trial championships.
A broken collarbone stopped him from racing the Giro d’Italia, meaning Bernal should be well rested and fresh. He will go into the Tour as Thomas’ understudy and likely in similar form to 2018 where, in the role of super-domestique, he still managed to finish an impressive 15th overall.
Thomas may go into the Tour as the leader of Team Ineos, but Bernal should be a protected rider too, looking to not lose time and ensuring he is as well-placed as possible, mirroring the tactics utilised by Thomas in 2018. He may not have the same time-trialing capabilities as his Welsh teammate, but he should have a great chance this year to ride for himself.
Last year, Bernal was third in the line of succession, this year he is the clear backup if something happens to Thomas or if the Welshman’s form is not there. If Bernal were to win in July, he’d be the third youngest overall victor in Tour history.
Movistar now has a great opportunity.
Movistar has come close to winning the Tour de France several times in recent years – Nairo Quintana reached the podium in 2013, 2015 and 2016. Does Froome being out of contention now increase Quintana’s chances at finally completing his Tour de France trophy collection by claiming the maillot jaune?
The multiple-leader tactic the team has previously employed at the Tour seemed to lack the cohesion needed to successfully turn ambition into general classification victory. Quintana would either fire up too late in the race to successfully take on Froome or, the team would expend energy in unnecessary attacks and moves that eventually returned minimal success.
Movistar showed at the recent Giro that a multiple-leader strategy can work. Richard Carapaz and Mikel Landa initially went into the race as dual team leaders, resulting in overall victory and two stage victories for Carapaz, plus fourth overall for Landa. Alejandro Valverde, Landa and Quintana are all set to start the Tour, it’s just up to them how they capitalise on Froome’s withdrawal.
Other teams might have a greater chance at victory now too.
It’s not just Movistar that has a greater opportunity now. Tom Dumoulin, Vincenzo Nibali, Steven Kruijswijk and Richie Porte have all been considered underdogs as long as Chris Froome is also lining up alongside them. Now, Froome is out of the equation and the chances of Team Ineos’ rivals winning the Tour has increased. At least on paper.
Dumoulin went into the 2018 Tour de France in impeccable form, chasing down and following Thomas, overtaking Froome and keeping well within reach of the yellow jersey. However, he still failed to conquer Thomas overall.
Dumoulin placed third in Wednesday’s time trial at the Dauphine but he’s still struggling with the knee injury that knocked him out of the Giro. If he can be back at his best by the start of the Tour, he’ll be a dangerous rival for Thomas.
Nibali crashed out of the Tour after a collision with a spectator while sitting in fourth overall, leaving his potential fate unknown. Steven Kruijswijk finished an admirable fifth on the GC and Richie Porte crashed out on stage nine after previously saying how primed he had felt for a strong performance at 2018 Tour.
Yes, the imposing figure of Froome has been removed this year, but in 2018 Sky’s second-in-charge was still stronger than any other team’s outright leader. If these riders weren’t able to beat Thomas in 2018, how will they do so in 2019?
Froome’s exit might mean more unpredictable racing.
Since the Sky-train began its stronghold on the Tour de France, the race has become far less interesting for many fans. By employing similar tactics every year, the team served to neutralise the race, making the Giro and the Vuelta more traditionally exciting viewing. Through the departure of Froome, Team Ineos is weakened slightly, meaning there may be less of their constant control; less riding a high tempo to prevent attacks off the front of the bunch.
From this, unpredictable racing may feature more through this year’s edition of the Tour, especially in the final week of racing which has been designed to make the 2019 Tour more suitable for aggressive racing. The “highest Tour in history” features seven mountain stages, and five summit finishes, making mountain stages more common than any other type of stage.
This could be the key to teams undoing the Ineos approach to racing and creating a more unpredictable race and final result.
But maybe Froome’s exit changes nothing.
Team Ineos’ chances at the Tour don’t rely on one rider. Froome may be the strongest leader the team has had, but as mentioned, Ineos can certainly still win the Tour in 2019. It will have the strongest team on the startlist.
In 2014, the only edition of the Tour de France not won by Sky since 2012, Chris Froome did not finish the race after crashing in grim weather on stage five. Vincenzo Nibali took out the general classification and lead the race for all but two stages. It was a breath of fresh air to many spectators only three years into the dominance of Team Sky at the Tour, but Froome was back in 2015 to win again.
While Froome will miss the 2019 edition, the difference between this Tour and 2014’s is the depth of the Sky/Ineos squad.
In 2014, when Froome crashed, Richie Porte became the leader, supported by the likes of Geraint Thomas, Mikel Nieve, Vasil Kiryienka and David Lopez. While these are all strong riders, that squad was significantly weaker when compared with the supporting team Ineos is taking to the Tour in 2019: Wout Poels, Michal Kwiatkowski, Jonathan Castroviejo, Luke Rowe, Kenny Elissonde and Dylan Van Baarle. And Thomas, as a former Tour winner, is now proven over three weeks, unlike Porte.
So, while Froome won’t be there, Ineos’ strength in numbers can be enough to still secure a team victory.
Froome’s Grand Tour dynasty might be over.
Chris Froome has made his ambition clear to win a fifth Tour de France. But, after his heavy crash at the Dauphine, that goal seems less likely to eventuate. In 2020, Froome would line up at the Tour de France at 35 years of age. Should he win, he’d be the second oldest winner in history only behind 1922 overall winner, Firmin Lambot.
Recovery from a fractured femur (not to mention his other injuries) may be long and tedious, but it’s not necessarily career ending, as seen in the cases of Jack Bauer and Alexander Vinokourov. Froome is not an athlete to go down without a fight and it is entirely possible he will again reach the top step of a Grand Tour. (Side note: As this piece is being written, he may even be awarded a seventh Grand Tour title — the 2011 Vuelta a España. That would retroactively make him the first British Grand Tour winner in history.)
At first glance, the omission of Froome from the Tour de France looks as though it has the potential to shake up the race and make it more interesting than it has been recently. But, it may also be a case of status quo with Ineos again proving too strong. Time will tell.
Above all, Chris Froome is human. He is a father, a husband, a son. While the Tour de France is important to cycling, Froome’s recovery from injury is the most important factor in this unexpected turn of events. We wish him a speedy and healthy recovery.
What do you think? What impact will Froome’s withdrawal have on the 2019 Tour?
About the author
Sonia Blair is a journalism intern from the University of Adelaide, Australia. Some of her earliest memories as a child involve spectating roadside at bike races with her dad, eventually growing into a love for the beauty of cycling. Outside of late nights watching live European races, Sonia can be found sipping an overpriced chai latte or watching a Wes Anderson film.